Congratulations — you’ve done it! You’ve got the right job. You live in the right city. You don’t want for weekend plans, and you’re beginning to see yourself as a true adult. But, you’re getting fat.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Fat happens. It’s a blessing to have booked up weekends, and there’s lots of good food and good times to be had in large cities. If you find that your big-time city life wreaks havoc on your waistline, we’ve got the tools to help. Tighten your body, even with a tight budget. It’s really not that hard.
From Zero (Dollars) to Fit
In a city, the easiest way to start getting fit on a budget is — you guessed it — the Internet. Start with Groupon, Yelp, and your city’s Craigslist or Reddit pages to learn about exercise-based goings on in your city. Find some gyms, workout studios, or group classes. Search similar findings by neighborhood or area of interest, and see what kind of coupons you can find.
There are always deals to be had, but make sure — in this case — to sweat the small stuff. Don’t get locked into any reoccurring payment contracts, and make sure that any classes you purchase work precisely with your schedule. Cities have many opportunities for cheap workouts; there’s no need to settle on something that doesn’t work out for you.
If you don’t have a dime to spend, take your time with research. You’ll have to trade a time investment for a monetary one, but this can pay off in scads. Social bike rides, for example, are common, often free, and partner you with several dozen (or hundred!) other people seeking some sweaty, social fun. New York City has several bike clubs, and lots of resources to pair riders with those of similar styles. Other options include donation-based yoga studios (such as in CuraYoga in Houston, Texas), free salsa classes (often offered on Saturday evenings at Latin restaurants and clubs), or outdoor Tai Chi in public parks. Here’s a list of free exercise classes offered in Washington, D.C. And here’s one for Boston, which recently underwent a citywide free exercise push.
Get Back to Where You Once Belonged
The Beatles sang it; it must be true. If you’ve exhausted all free exercise classes in your city, you can still enjoy some free fitness. Picture yourself as you once were — a child playing outside in the grass. Climbing trees, running wild somewhere green and full of natural light. Brainstorm places in your concrete jungle that can offer you this feeling of natural wonder and childlike freedom, and think of ways to incorporate exercise cheaply (or, better yet, for free).
Most large American cities will have some green spaces, whether they’re large public parks, botanical gardens, or waterfront tree-lined streets. Even if you live in the most urban of areas, you’re bound to be able to find a relatively safe area for walking, jogging, biking, hiking, or simply enjoying some fresh air. Light, self-paced exercises can produce a zenlike feeling, transporting you from city life and into your natural zone. Taking a walk is free. Becoming a runner is as cheap as a good pair of shoes and some earbuds. Make sure you’ve explored local weather reports and any safety issues for whatever green areas you choose. Safety’s cheap, too.
And if you just can’t bring yourself to spend money on classes, participate in social bike rides, or find some green pastures — there’s always the Internet. YouTube has thousands upon thousands of exercise videos you can access right from your crappy studio apartment. All you really need to work out at home is an Internet connection and the right video playlist.
Start here. Try this. If you don’t like those, here are some recommendations from Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong. And here’s another good resource for free exercise videos online. And if all else fails, you can cut a rug solo to your favorite tunes. (Pro Tip: Make sure your blinds are closed.)
Do the “Is It Worth It?” Math
You’ve done all the free classes. You’re burned out on Central Park. You already park far away, take the stairs, and walk around the block at lunch. Maybe your bike tires are low. Whatever your reason, if it’s time for a new challenge — challenge yourself to get fit without losing fat from your wallet.
One of the most difficult parts of living urban life on a budget is deciding where to cut corners. If you choose to afford a gym membership, you may not be able to send your suits to the dry cleaners. If you keep doing one-off walk-in classes, you’re not spending your exercise money efficiently. Here’s the solution: do the “Is it worth it?” math. If you’ve fallen in love with Bikram yoga, but it’s going to cost you $200 per month at your favorite studio, the only question you’ve got to ask yourself when budgeting is this: Is it worth it?
Is it worth it to skip a concert with friends to get a new pair of cross trainers? Is it worth it to spend $100 on exercise DVDs that are apartment appropriate, but you’re fairly certain you won’t be able to do 100 times? Is it worth it to go out to dinner three times a week and hit the office happy hour, but feel broke and ashamed when your waistline keeps growing and you’re “too broke for Tae Bo” for the sixth week in a row? Probably not, but that’s up to you.
“Is it worth it?” math comes in many forms, but here’s a pro tip to help in your decision making: If it’s about your health, it’s probably worth it. Choosing pilates over pilsner can be difficult, but think about the healthy, happy, and more capable person that emerges over months of these incremental budgeting decisions. Here’s a few free budget planners to help you compartmentalize: Mint, PowerWallet, and some tips from Get Rich Slowly.